The University of Minnesota Alumni Association recently released a survey to prepare its members for the upcoming midterm elections, garnering responses from state and federal candidates regarding higher education funding and policy.
Survey results included over 105 candidates' answers to five questions ranging from state funding, tuition, research restrictions and the upkeep of infrastructure around campus. Gubernatorial candidates Republican Jeff Johnson and Democrat Tim Walz took part in the survey along with several candidates seeking Congressional and state seats.
“There are 485,000 alumni of the Twin Cities campus and they’re going to have a wide variety of views,” said Lisa Lewis, Alumni Association president and CEO. “We welcome that and we welcome the open conversation between alumni and their Legislative candidates.”
Both gubernatorial candidates highlighted the need to make the University more affordable and acknowledged its influence on state and local economies in their responses.
Johnson said he would not oppose stronger restrictions than what federal law and University policy currently dictate for fetal tissue research at the University, while Walz said he would.
“It follows exactly the pro-life and pro-choice divide,” said Sen. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka. “That’s a really hard moral and philosophical question anyway, and then you throw in politics.”
Regardless of the midterms, Minnesota will see the election of a new governor as DFL Gov. Mark Dayton will not seek re-election in November. The impact this change will have on the University is questionable, but a possible shift in the state House and Senate compositions will be influential for the institution, lawmakers say. These bodies draft final budget and bonding bills before the governor signs off on their decisions.
“Between Johnson and Walz I don’t know if one of them is more passionate about the University than the other, I haven’t heard that,” said chair of the House higher education committee Rep. Bud Nornes, R-Fergus Falls.
Walz stressed the importance of continued state investment in the University.
“The state should continue to invest in our institutions to ensure we live up to the promise of accessible, affordable and excellent higher education for all Minnesotans,” his response said.
Johnson said the school should reduce costs instead of depending on increased state funding.
“Simply put, increased state funding cannot rise much faster than the rate of inflation, as tuition has been. So the University has to be an active partner in reducing costs, expanding its revenue streams, and focusing its efforts on serving students in a cost-effective manner,” he said in his response.
The University's Board of Regents recently rolled out a proposed $87 million budget request for the upcoming biennium.
Lewis said the importance of this survey is demonstrated through continued alumni advocacy at the Capitol. She said it’s important future state be an issue in candidate conversations.
“We want buildings that don’t fall down around you while you’re sitting in class,” Lewis said. “We want to make sure that our students today have really first class facilities, outstanding educational opportunities, and the support of the state is vital to that.”
5th Congressional District candidate Jennifer Zielinski’s responses to alumni questions was also included in the survey. Her opponent, Rep. Ilhan Omar, DFL-Minneapolis, did not respond to questions.